Harmonic progression

LESLIE FISHER Contributing Writer Published January 19, 2012 at 3:22 a.m.
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— Years of involvement with the Hot Springs Music Festival taught Todd Cranson to think unconventionally.

Now the New Orleans native is applying that same out-of-the-box mentality to his new position as general director of the festival, in an effort to expand the festival and take classical music to new audiences.

On Feb. 4, the Hot Springs Music Festival will present the Winter Fantasie Concert at noon at Kirk in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Hot Springs Village and at 7 p.m.at the Cabe Theater in Gurdon. The concert will include performances by members of the Hot Springs Music Festival staff and the Henderson State University music faculty.

The concert will serve not only as an outreach event and fundraiser, Cranson said, but to help fulfill the festival’s mission of providing low-cost concerts to the communities of central Arkansas.

“Our festival is the Hot Springs Music Festival,” said Cranson, who is in his first year as general director. “In my mind, that means the offseason is the perfect time to reach outside of Hot Springs.”

Cranson also hopes to attract new audiences for the festival in June with some unique marketing campaigns and varied programming - befitting of this year’s theme, “The Spice of Life.”

“We are going to try to offer a few things that will appeal to younger audiences, to more diverse audiences. We are going to do our very best at marketing to them and trying to reach out to them to get their attention,” Cranson said, “but at the same time, we are going to work really hard not to alienate the audiences we already have.”

This year’s festival, which will be heldJune 3-16, will feature Rick Robinson, a longtime bassist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra who is now on a mission to bring classical music to underserved audiences. Throughout the first week of the festival, he will perform at restaurants and bars in Hot Springs to help promote the concerts downtown. The festival will also feature the Cassatt String Quartet, an award-winning ensemble based in New York City.

“Cassatt represents a continuation of our mission to bring world-class musicians to Hot Springs,” Cranson said. “They are one of the most prominent string quartets in the country, and their ability to attract highquality students and composers and bring national attention to the festival is very exciting.”

Cranson first attended the festival as an apprentice in 1999, following the completion of his graduate degree in instrumental conducting at the University of Arkansas. He holds undergraduate degrees in music education and tuba performance from Louisiana State University.

His professor at the University of Arkansas, Kabin Thomas, was serving as the tuba mentor at the Hot Springs Music Festival at the time and suggested that Cranson apply for an apprenticeship.

Cranson returned to the music festival the following three years as an apprentice and then as an associate, or a nonteaching professional.

“The Hot Springs MusicFestival really shaped me as a person and as a musician,” Cranson said. “The festival is about having pre-professional musicians that are on the cusp of entering the professional music world and mentoring them about possibilities.”

Cranson began attending music festivals in Europe and Canada that conflicted with the Hot Springs Music Festival but resulted in Cranson moving to England to study full time with world-renowned tuba player Roger Bobo at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Cranson then went on to teach for six years at the University of Illinois Springfield until last summer, when he accepted the general-director position with the Hot Springs Music Festival.

He had been serving as thefestival’s tuba mentor since 2007, so when Laura Rosenberg, the co-founder and former general director, announced her resignation last spring, she suggested that Cranson apply for the job.

He hopes to bring to the position what he calls youthful energy.

“We will always play all of the things that one would expect from a classical music festival,” Cranson said, “but I want to bring in the things that young classically trained musicians find exciting now, also. And I think that if we get young audiences and expose them to that, they will find something they can identify with, that they like, and that it can bring classical music to 21st-century audiences.”

Cranson and his wife, Rose, who is also a tuba player, relocated to Hot Springs in July. Shortly thereafter, he accepted a part-time job as an adjunct bass trombone and tuba teacher at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

“I love teaching, and I was concerned about leaving it,” he said. “Even though I get to teach for two weeks in the summer, I wasn’t sure if that was enough for me, and it was amazing. I lived here just a week or two, and Henderson State University called, and I got that job.”

Cranson will join his HSU colleagues for the Winter Fantasie Concert with a performance of John Stevens’ “Triangles,” featuring Cranson on tuba, Jamie Lipton on euphonium and Heather Thayer on horn.

The program will also feature a performance by Hot Springs Music Festival pianomentor Michael Gurt with music adviser and conductor Peter Bay narrating Francis Poulenc’s Babar the Elephant.

“[Gurt] has soloed with every major orchestra on the planet, just about,” Cranson said.

“He is truly an amazing musician, and that’s the kind of people we bring to Hot Springs for two weeks every summer.”

Tickets for the Winter Fantasie Concert are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and can be reserved in advance by calling the Hot Springs Music Festival office at (501) 623-4763.

“We’re programming this concert to be quite diverse and varied,” Cranson said. “And I’m hoping that there will be something for everyone.”

For more information about the Hot Springs Music Festival, visit www.hotmusic.org.